I consciously joined the Navy just before the first Gulf War because I had no children and did not see the need for those who had families to risk the consequences of service. Friends and colleagues came back diagnosed (as adults) with pediatric cancers. They did not receive medals, rather a diagnosis that typically resulted in an amputated limb.
I went back to school, as a disabled veteran, to become a nurse to care for those who often have little voice in their prognosis. In the pediatric ICU at Rush, I have cared for children dealing with the ramifications of a cancer diagnosis. I encounter these brave souls as I teach our nursing students in the community.
In the military, one obviously faces danger and encounters enemies both foreign and domestic — often on a daily basis. That is what we signed up for — what we pledged our loyalty to. Children (and their families, however defined) never enlisted in a diagnosis that begins with the big “C.”
In the United States, cancer is the leading cause of death by disease past infancy. One out of 285 U.S. children are diagnosed with cancer before they turn 20 years old. In 2015, about 10,380 children under the age of 15 in the United States alone will be diagnosed with cancer.
I don’t know about you, but for me that’s a heartbreaking statistic. It’s hard to think that so many families will be faced with the possible reality of losing their child before they have a chance to graduate high school, get married, or have children of their own.
Even if pediatric cancer patients successfully fight their cancer, two-thirds of them must endure long-term effects of treatment such as hearing loss, learning disabilities, infertility, heart disease, second cancers, and the list goes on.
Another unpalatable reality is the fact that less than 4 percent of funds for cancer research is allotted specifically toward pediatric cancer research.
By Joseph Lee
In the United States, a child under the age of 20 is diagnosed with cancer every three minutes. So in the time it takes to read this piece, a family will be faced with the very real possibility of losing their child, as there are many cancers where progress towards a cure is still very limited. And even those that are cured of their cancer, their battle continues with chronic health problems or other life-threatening conditions.
While the government and foundations continue to invest in adult cancer research, childhood cancers are left to fend for themselves. In fact, all types of childhood cancers receive only 4 percent of the total U.S. federal funding for cancer research, with pharmaceutical companies investing even less.
So the question becomes if not us, then who? If not now, then when? Should we wait until more children are stripped of the opportunity to go to school or fall in love? Or ask more parents to stay strong while their children go through grueling treatments or are lost altogether?
This is where St. Baldrick’s comes into play. Through the help of dedicated physicians, such as Dr. Paul Kent, students, families, friends, patients and survivors, we seek to close the funding gap. Through events across the country, with head shaving being the premier event, over $30 million was raised in 2013.
Staff and students at Rush University Medical Center gave up their hair for a good cause at the March 29 St. Baldrick’s Fundraiser, proceeds from which will go to pediatric cancer research. Learn more.
By Thomas Holland
St. Baldrick’s is a national organization that promotes the research of pediatric oncology by providing grants to various doctors and researchers across the nation. The money provided in the grants is raised by countless events with thousands of participants.
This year there have already been 902 events with 40,700 shavees. St. Baldrick’s is operated as a purely volunteer charity. It is hailed as a top organization that gets the highest percentage of money raised to the individuals that best utilize it, like Rush’s own Dr. Paul Kent, who was noted on the St. Baldrick’s website as the chosen caregiver for National Volunteer Week.
My own interest in St. Baldrick’s was spawned by Dr. Kent. While talking with him about volunteering, he took me around the floor and gave me a bracelet with the phone number of St. Baldrick’s.